I am in the Holy City!!! It is awesome. Jerusalem is very modern, and there are cars wizzing around, and shopping centers like anywhere else. It is actually very westernized in the shops, and I could have just as easily been walking down the LA fashion district as I could have been walking down Jerusalem's Jaffa Street. I also saw many orthodox Jews, and was saturated in the chosen people of God. It was refreshing, but HOT… not as bad as Italy, but still HOT. There are also a good amount of flies, but no mosquitos that I have encountered yet.
I did a free tour of the Old City, and it was not that great. There were many sights that were not touched on, and it was very rushed. The Old city is only one square kilometer, split up into 4 quarters: The Christian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Jewish Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter. We walked by many churches and mosques, and none of them looked any type of spectacular from the outside. What makes the city spectacular is not its outward appearance, which boasts modest stone architecture, but the history, and walking in the steps of Jesus, the prophets, and being in the streets that have existed for thousands of years. The church of the Holy Sepulcre, for example, is said to be on the spot where Jesus died, and the anointing stone was where he was anointed with oils before he was wrapped and put to rest. I saw people wiping this stone, and putting their face on it, and kissing it… to me, I place no power in relics. First off, it is unlikely that this was that very stone anyway, and secondly, even if it were, it is not imbued with magical power… The walling wall was special, but I decided not to pretend to be Jewish, and put on a yomica (which they had for free, all you had to do was take one, put it on, and go), just to gain access and touch the wall. I have too much respect for the jews than to impersonate one, just in order to get closer to the wall. I am a Christian, and I was ok with just observing them pray, and snapping some pics.
My next day in Jerusalem, I went to Nazareth. I saw the place where the church believes the holy family lived. I say it like that because how can we really know? There is no archaeological evidence; again, it is not the place that is special… touching the same things, and standing in the same place that Jesus stood does not imbue special powers on such things; this is witchcraft; however, just to be in the same vicinity, and the same city, and the same general area is enough to get a great experience, that you are walking in the places Jesus walked. After the holy family church, we went to places like Capernaum, which is a shell of its former self. The roles reversed perfectly; back in Jesus' day, Nazareth was a small community, and Capernaum a large city; now, just the opposite is true; Nazareth is the large city, and Capernaum is literally ruins. We saw where Peter's mother in law was supposed to have lived, the place where Christ would have stayed for almost 2 years, as Capernaum was his main base of operations during his 3 year ministry. We also passed by Mt. Tabor, a.k.a Transfiguration Mountain. Not too far away from these places was Mt. Beatitude, where Jesus is said to have spoken the Sermon on the Mount. Also, we visited Tabghor, where at the foot of this mountain, Jesus fed the 5,000.
The next day was Bethlehem, which is in the west bank. I have no idea who controls the west bank, because we had to cross a border control place before going in. Before going to Bethlehem though, I got up super early, and was at the Temple mount by 7:30am. It was the only time I could go, as the Temple mount is only open to non-muslims from 730-1130am, and 130-230pm. I knew this was my last day there, and I had to see the temple mount, where Solomon's original temple, and the second temple both stood. I was surprised, because there were an unusual amount of flies on the temple mount, unlike anywhere else in the country that I had been. Anyway, on top of the mount is controlled by the Muslims. They built El-Aqsa mosque where they believe that Muhammed ascended/was translated into heaven. It is the biggest mosque in the world. Also, this is where the iconic Dome of the Rock mosque is, and it lies where the Most Holy place would have been in Solomon's Temple. It is the oldest piece of Islamic architecture in the world, and it was magnificient. It's blue, gold, and white tapestries, interwoven, with Arabic written in there as well, was masterful. The dome, made of pure gold, struck awe in me. It was a beautiful sight to behold. That may have been the highlight of the entire trip. The building fascade was not only captivating, but the historical significance, and the religious and cultural significance as well; put altogether, it was overwhelming.
On to Bethlehem, it was surprisingly close. I had no idea that it would be that close; I closed my eyes for a second, and I woke up already in Bethlehem. It is probably about 15m by car to Bethlehem, so in the times of Jesus, it would have been a 2-3 hour walk. Not bad at all. In Bethlehem, we first started off with the Milk Grotto. This is where it is said that Mary milked Christ on their way to Egypt to flee Herod's decree. Some of the milk spilled on the ground, turning the stone white, and if ground up, can still be used for healing properties today, such as cancer and women being barren. Then, we went to the Shepherd's field, where the Shepherds heard about Jesus' birth from angels appearing to them. Lastly, we went to the main attraction, the church of the Nativity. This is where it is said that Christ was actually born. There is a star that marks the spot where Crusaders found the original manger, and they took it back to the Vatican. There was a long line to see this star on the floor, but our tour guide had connections with the priest, and was able to get us in. It was below an altar type platform, so people bent below the altar, and were kissing the star, and trying to rub the star, and so forth. Taking a picture was enough for me; no need to genuflect. Bethlehem was a nice place, and a much easier trip than Nazareth; not as hot either. I was done w/ the Bethlehem trip around 1pm, so I had plenty of time to visit the Garden Tomb, the more accurate place where Jesus was probably buried, where Protestants believe he was buried. I checked, and the tomb was still empty…
As the day was dying in the west, I made the trek up to the mount of Olives to see the sunset over the Holy City. I passed 2 taxi drivers that were trying to sell me their services, but instead, I decided to walk. All I really wanted to see was the sunset, and also the garden of gethsemane, but when I got to the top, I realized that the garden was at the foot of the hill, and I did not want to go all the way down, take pictures, and possibly miss the sunset. So, I stayed, and took amazing pics of the sunset over the temple mount, and then headed down to the garden. To think, Christ had that very same view, and was looking over at the Jewish Temple, in all of its glory.
My grand trip has ended, but I still have some stops to make in the States before I come home. NYC next!